FORTVILLE — An arts center locals feared would shutter its doors because of a lack of funding has been saved by the kindness of friends and strangers alike, organization leaders said.
Recognizing the decade of work Ten West Center for the Arts has brought to the community, residents pulled together enough money to save the Fortville facility that offers art, music, theater and dance programs to adults and children across the area.
Ten West announced in January it did not have the funding to cover its annual expenses — about $22,000 — and many feared the center faced permanent closure. The organization’s leaders created a committee to explore solutions while putting out a plea for donations.
Over the next few weeks, help came pouring in, said Andrew Okerson, the center’s event coordinator. Between the one-time donors and event attendees and those who signed on for monthly pledges, the effort drew almost 19,000, nearly enough to cover an entire year’s expenses.
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It was like a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Okerson remarked — neighbors and friends pooling their resources to save the day. Except in this case, it wasn’t George Bailey who needed help; it was arts center that, as it turned out, meant so much to so many.
“People felt that (Ten West) was something good for the community, and they wanted to keep it around a good while longer,” Okerson said.
Ten West first opened its doors in 2007. Co-founder and executive director Paul Okerson, with the help of his sons, Matt and Andrew, renovated the former church building to create a theater and community center.
In addition to putting on performances from its own troupe of actors and hosting visiting acts, Ten West rents space to several vendors and organizations, including Celestial Martial Arts, Artsy Canvas and a local Boy Scout troop.
Though those groups help offset the monthly rent and utility bills, more than 90 percent of the facility’s operating budget was funded by Paul Okerson, who lost his job earlier this year and could no longer help cover the center’s experiences.
Andrew Okerson and his father assembled an emergency committee of local actors, marketing professionals and arts supporters who outlined plans for a membership drive to garner monthly pledges from community members.
Nearly 50 community members signed up to give monthly donations, ranging from $10 to $25, Andrew Okerson said.
One-time donations, including several from local businesses and a $1,000 donation from local service sorority Alpha Psi, the Fortville Chapter of Xi Iota Psi, brought in enough to cover the remainder of Ten West’s annual expenses, he said.
Community member say they were more than happy to heed to Ten West’s cry for help.
Fortville resident Jean Ann Linville read about Ten West’s financial woes in the Daily Reporter and was eager to show support for place she and her family have utilized for fun over the years.
She’s glad she’ll be able to turn to center for entertainment in the years to come.
“I just think it’s a great thing for Fortville and the surrounding community,” Linville said. “It has a lot of community involvement.”
Eric Garst, owner of Garst Pharmacy in Fortville, also reached out to Ten West in its time of need, purchasing a monthly membership.
Garst lives across the street from the arts facility and attends as many shows and events as he can, he said.
“It’s a really good cause to be focusing on the arts when a lot of arts programs are getting cut out of school,” Garst said. “It’s nice to see people like Paul and Andrew who are dedicated to the arts.”
But Ten West’s leaders recognize their work is far from over. Andrew Okerson hopes to take the positive momentum from the recent membership drive and channel it into a long-term funding plan for the building. He hopes that many of the members who signed on in 2017 will continue their memberships into 2018 and beyond. He also plans to work toward the development of partnerships with local Fortville businesses.